Best small cars for 2019
By Martin Pratt
Article 4 of 16
Looking for a great small car? The best small cars are affordable, reliable and easy to drive, yet feel secure on a motorway
The best small cars are loved by their owners. And for good reason: they're compact enough to be easy to drive in town and just large enough to be comfortable on long-distance trips.
Plus they're affordable to buy and run, and practical so they cope well with everyday duties. From shopping and the school run, to ferrying about friends or even a daily commute, the best small cars are up to the job.
Below are the very best small cars we've tested – reliable new and used models that scored highly enough to become Which? Best Buy cars.
We've also uncovered three small cars that are a poor example of the small-car class, displaying none of the comfort and efficiency you'll find in a Best Buy model. These cars are fault prone, dull, and in some cases downright unsafe to drive and must be avoided.
Best new small cars
This premium manufacturer’s first attempt at an electric hatchback is impressive. It has decent range and performance, and an upmarket feel. It’s also nippy, with a tight turning circle, and is a treat to drive in town. A range extender hybrid version was originally available for those who regularly travel further afield, though all new models are battery electric only.
It may lack the cutesy styling or fashionable customisation options of rival models, but this five-door hatchback delivers where it counts. It’s roomy, safe, easy to drive and has a long manufacturer warranty. It’s not the most practical small hatchback but, if you can live with that, you’re likely to have years of trouble-free motoring.
This convertible retains the keen driving experience and fashionable image of the regular hatchback, but adds the glamour of a retractable fabric roof. It does lose some of its (already marginal) practicality in the conversion to a drop-top, though, with rear seat space taking a hit.
Best used small cars
It may not be sporty to drive, but this well-designed hatchback gets the basics right and is well suited to drivers looking for simplicity. Practicality remains a great plus point: although the hybrid version loses around 100 litres of boot space due to its batteries (they're under the boot floor), it's still highly capacious.
This car should be on your shortlist if you prioritise space and practicality. That’s not to say it falls short in other areas – it’s well made, reliable (according to owners in our latest survey) and has comfortable seats. It won’t particularly thrill or relax you, but if you simply want a hassle-free small car, it’s definitely one to consider.
Big-car refinement and tech, successfully distilled into a compact hatchback – this model is well-made and is a good choice for anyone looking to downsize their car without compromising on quality. Rear space is limited, though, and the ride can be firm on larger alloy wheels.
Not found the car for you? Click to jump straight to all our small car reviews.
And here are three small cars to avoid
Small cars are, well, small, but that doesn't mean they need to feel cramped. We've found models that are deceptively spacious with more legroom than you would expect from the outside. That said, we've found cars that are a tight squeeze for two occupants, let alone five.
Some manufacturers see the small car moniker as a challenge, adding creative storage solutions and smart folding seats. But other manufacturers see it as an excuse, creating cars with puny, badly-designed boots with high lips that make them difficult to load.
Being smaller and lighter than most cars doesn't mean a low-powered engine will suffice. Our testing has uncovered engines that struggle to get their cars going. The city car excuse of being designed for driving around town doesn't hold water with small cars.
They should be as comfortable on a motorway as they are weaving down narrow streets. If the engine can't manage this, then you'll be moving through the gears too often to maintain your speed.
Finally, no matter how small a car is, there is no excuse for it to be unsafe. Our independent testing has uncovered one popular model that has sub-standard crash safety. So we've made it a Don't Buy.
Below, you'll find three of the worst small cars we've tested. These models shouldn't be considered, no matter how tempting the price tag.
Small cars to avoid
There’s plenty to like with this new model – it’s well styled, nippy and fun to drive and is well equipped as standard. However, base versions do without key active safety kit, which lowers its Euro NCAP safety rating to just three stars out of five. We don’t think that’s good enough so have rendered it a Don’t Buy model.
On the face of it, this is a strong small-car contender. It’s well styed, comfortable and has a higher quality feel than previous generation models. However, our tests revealed some worrying behaviour during our hazard avoidance test. It’s also surprisingly difficult to see out of. To cap it all, its reliability is very poor - over a third of owners in our latest reliability survey had to get their car repaired.
It might be spacious and reasonably practical for its size, but there’s very little else to recommend about this small hatchback. It’s been on sale for far too long, and has fallen way behind the times, particularly in terms of safety. It’s one of the lowest scoring cars we’ve reviewed – avoid like the plague.
We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else
Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations, and because Which? is independent and doesn't accept advertising or freebies, you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about every car we test.
Every car we review is subjected to more than 100 individual tests in a lab, on a test track, and on real roads – and we really clock up the miles, driving around 500 miles in every car we test.
Testing in controlled lab conditions means the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us determine exactly which models are better and why, and helping you find the perfect car for your needs.
And, so you know which cars are likely to prove reliable for years to come, we also gather feedback from thousands of UK car owners through the Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.
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